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Team England gold-medallist Ama Agbeze shares secrets from professional sport that are helping her during the COVID-19 outbreak

Staying active and keeping well (both physically and mentally) has never been more important. As we all stay home to protect ourselves and others, we asked Team England gold medallist and netballer, Ama Agbeze for her top tips on how to stay positive and active.

1. Be kind to yourself

At the moment, everything is so different from the norm, and I think it’s unfair to put too much expectation on yourself. Whether you have big ambitions, smaller goals or a daily to-do list, don’t expect too much, as it could leave you feeling disappointed for not completing everything, and then lead to a lack of motivation.

To keep myself organised, I’d typically plan the next day before bed, but I’m letting myself be guided by how I feel each day. I’ve still got work to do, but beyond that, I let my mood decide what I’m going to do that day. Some days that means I relax a little more than others, but it’s good to take the pressure off yourself and just go with the flow.

Lots of people are balancing working from home, and others are also looking after their families, meaning that days are busier than ever – just in a different way to usual. Although it might feel impossible, make sure you make time to do something you enjoy – you deserve it!

2. Stick to your ‘normal’ routine

While I’m happy for my mood to steer my day, I still try and keep to some kind of a routine. It could be as simple as getting up at the same time as usual and trying to set a bedtime routine. It can be so easy to turn your alarm off when it buzzes early in the morning, especially if you’ve been furloughed as I have been, but it’s important to get up. For motivation, set some tasks throughout the day. I join a virtual service at 8:45am several days a week, but you could call a friend, go for a walk or workout at home.

Back to the subject of sleep, try and avoid napping for long periods in the day. It seems like a good idea, but it can be disruptive. If you need to power nap, try setting a timer for 7 minutes and closing your eyes. You’ll feel a lot more refreshed and reduce your chance of ruining a good night’s sleep.

3. Seek out positive energy

It’s normal to feel worried, anxious or stressed about everything that’s happening at the moment. My mum is a carer and over 70 years old, but continuing to provide care and naturally, I worry about her. Still, it’s important to either find a way to stay positive or do something that makes you feel more positive about the situation. Exercise allows me to feel more positive once I’ve done it, but there are times where I can’t even bring myself to get changed. It’s not about saying you’re going to train super hard; it’s enough to muster the strength to step outside the door and go on a walk.

When I was younger, I’d let the sense of occasion around big netball matches overwhelm me. Over time, I learned to block the noise of the crowd out and just focus on the game plan, because no matter how difficult a game might be, I knew it would be over at some point. It’s the same right now; I’m holding onto hope that this will pass soon. It’s difficult, but it’s important to remember that the separation from our family and friends will end.

4. Keep yourself busy

It’s so easy to just veg out on the sofa or in bed binge-watching Netflix. Once in a while, that’s okay, but it’s not great for your mood to do it every day. I’ve been keeping busy by doing jobs around the house that I’ve previously not had time for. By picking one cupboard a day to clean out in the kitchen, I’ve made a task manageable (going back to my point about being kind to yourself), and I have a job I can break up into stages and complete over a day. When I finish a cupboard, I feel good that I’ve completed a task that I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s a great chance to do the life admin that you’ve been telling yourself you’ll do.

It’s not all about getting around to chores but keeping busy by rekindling a love for something. I used to enjoy reading, and this time has allowed me to pick up books that I started and never finished. When I was younger, I used to read a lot, so now I have a very manageable goal of at least one page a day. If you’re not a reader, it’s a great chance to play the guitar, draw, sew, do origami or puzzles – anything that can help feed your imagination and provide a little escapism.

5. Save worry - control the controllable

We can only affect what is in our control. This is something that I’ve learned through sport and have used to stay calm under pressure – basically, you can only do what you can do. There are some people who can (and are) doing amazing work looking after their communities.  For most of us, we can stay at home. I can practice social distancing and make sure I’m washing my hands and I stay responsible for this – it’s the element I can control.

We’d all love to help make this go away, but we’re not all qualified to, so you need to do you. This extends to the news and social media. If the news is making you feel anxious or depressed, just check in once a day or not at all. It’s similar on social media – too much and I start to feel like I’m not good enough or feel a little guilty. Try limiting time scrolling through by setting an alarm and only look a few times a day.

Finally, try not to worry.  Stressing about a situation doesn’t change the outcome, and can leave you feeling depleted in energy.  I can’t end the lockdown, but I can contribute in my own small way, and I can utilise the time.  If worry starts creeping in, try to occupy your mind with something else.

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